District revives water battle; New hearing sought on plant.
The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District has filed a petition for rehearing with the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in its battle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over water quality standards the sewage treatment plant is required to meet under its 2008 permit.
In August, the federal court upheld the long-delayed implementation of more stringent limits on the levels of phosphorus, nitrogen and aluminum the EPA would allow the sewage plant to discharge into the Blackstone River.
District representatives, including Worcester and surrounding communities, claim that the required upgrades would cost $200 million, although the EPA estimated the amount to be much less. City officials say the upgrades and additional operating costs would add $225 a year to a city ratepayer's bill.
The district argued in its appeal that the EPA did not take into account measures put in place three to four years ago to reduce the discharge of phosphorus and nitrogen into the river.
Phosphorus causes excessive aquatic plant growth in freshwater, and nitrogen fuels growth in saltwater. Ultimately, the abundant plant growth and its decay consume oxygen in the water needed by fish and other wildlife.
The Sept. 14 request for a rehearing focuses on the panel's decision upholding the EPA's standard for phosphorus targets.
In its petition, the district requested a rehearing "en banc," with the full panel of judges from the First Circuit. If the court doesn't grant that request, the district would like a rehearing with the panel of three judges that upheld the EPA's permit in August.
The district based its request on its view that the proceedings involve an issue in which the panel's decision conflicts with the decisions of other U.S. Courts of Appeals that have addressed this general topic.
It claims the case also involves significant issues that will affect industrial dischargers and municipal wastewater treatment plants and ratepayers throughout the country.
If the full panel declines to rehear the case, the district argues that the original panel should rehear it because the panel's opinion was based on erroneous assumptions about the timing of the EPA's permit requirements and the data the EPA used to set its standards.
According to the district's petition, the EPA failed to tailor the in-stream phosphorus target to the site-specific circumstances of the Blackstone River, and instead used a national phosphorus target.
Contact Susan Spencer by email at email@example.com.